I never know quite what’s going to happen from month to month in my current life. A friend asked me recently what my future plans were, and I said I really didn’t know, which is strange for me.
Currently, as you might have read in my last post, this life is working out very well for me, but I’m relaxed about changing it up when it doesn’t anymore, whenever that might be.
Another day, another training course
This month, April, brought a trip to Shenzhen, China.
Shenzhen – which, I shamefacedly admit I’d never heard of – is a very modern city about 20 miles away from Hong Kong. A Chinese Special Economic Zone, it has a lot of leeway on its laws and conditions, and has successfully grown from a population of about 300k at the end of the 1970s to nearly 11 million today.
I went to run some training, and I’ll admit, the run up to the trip wasn’t straightforward. There was a lot of learning on both sides, and in the end I asked a friend in Hong Kong for some coaching in the culture, as I wasn’t finding great success in getting things done, and everything took a lot longer than I’d planned.
But once I got there and sorted out the teething issues, I found the Chinese people I was working with lovely. Friendly and hospitable, they couldn’t do enough for me, and treated me like royalty – including providing cake for my birthday, and giving me several fans as a memento of my stay.
Notable differences that my friend coached me about included the challenge of asking open questions on training courses – basically my normal, direct (Western) training style, pushing people to answer questions in a group setting, had to go. Instead, I replaced it with lots of group work. Although even this provided some learning once I enacted it – I had 8 people on the course, and every time I tried to split them into pairs or two groups, they’d essentially just work as one large group. In the end I stopped fighting the tide, and let them go with it!
There were lots of small cultural faux pas that the group forgave me for as we went along. For example, in one example on the course I mentioned brothers and sisters. Of course, with the one child policy in China, most of my delegates wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have brothers or sisters.
The course that eats together…
Another key difference was the importance of eating together. Every lunchtime we went out as a group to different local restaurants, which was wonderful for me (although did involve a bit of adjusting the timetable on the fly once I realized I would need 90 minutes for each lunchtime, twice what I’d normally plan in in the UK). Worth it though, as instead of warm, insipid sandwiches, we had a huge variety of Chinese dishes.
Chinese eating style is to order a variety of dishes for the table, and then you take what you want each time. My vegetarianism was managed admirably by my hosts, especially given there aren’t loads of veggie options on the typical Chinese menu. I think we ordered all of the possibilities in each restaurant we went to! More adventurous dishes were available to my colleagues on the course, including chicken feet and some kind of offal on one day.
Other unusual dishes included a black sesame soup, which was sweet, and tasted quite nice once I got past the look and texture of it (think, oil), and sweetcorn, er, juice? Drinkable sweetcorn, anyway. In the meals we had there was no differentiation between sweet or savoury courses, most dishes on the table were savoury, but sweet ones could be mixed in.
On the first couple of days, I was provided with a fork by my hosts. However, I’m lucky enough to have grown up with a family who loved Chinese food, so have been using chopsticks since I was a child. Not well, admittedly, as I hold them a lot further down than my hosts, but I managed to do without the ‘fork ‘o’ shame’ (as I dubbed it in my head), and they stopped giving me one after two meals. Cherry tomatoes in the salad were probably the hardest thing…
I was amused by how much mobile technology is used by those I worked with and also others I observed on my meanderings around the city. I had to get used to people pulling them out and checking their emails/text (or playing Angry Birds?!) throughout the course. I’d been warned, which was a good thing, so I could mostly ignore it. Luckily, my delegates were very diligent, and all revised for and passed easily the two exams and two practical assessments on the course. Phew!
Photos – professional bunny ears
Another cultural difference was the large number of photos that my delegates and hosts wanted to take. I’m not a great one for photos, and because I was the trainer, I was requested to be in most of them. We had all kinds of combinations and groupings. One thing that amused me when a (lovely) delegate sent me some of hers afterwards was one of the more senior male delegates making bunny ears. Having visited a couple of tourist places in Shenzhen (see my next post!), this seems to be quite popular when people are taking photos, but I didn’t expect it from my delegates!
My time in Shenzhen included my birthday, and worse, it was the day I was travelling home, which was mostly spent in airports and on planes. So the last day of the course (which was the day before my birthday), my delegates ended the course with birthday cake. They also gave me a wonderful gift of three very different Chinese fans (see photo at the top of post – a silk fan, a fan decorated with representations of a piece of traditional Chinese literature ‘Dreams of Red Mansions‘, and a beautifully scented sandalwood fan), as at the start of the week I had mentioned I was hoping to buy one to take home with me. Another example of their wonderful hospitality!
I had a much better time in China than expected, and I was really touched by the supportive and generous hospitality of my hosts. In my next post I’ll talk about the tourist activities I did in Shenzhen, so stay tuned!